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Upper Brush Creek : Cali-Bunga Part II

By: Evan J. Stafford
Photographer: Evan J. Stafford

Lower Brush creeking fun park

Lower Brush Creek is a well known creeking fun-park. Easy waterfalls and slides of all types can be found on this beautiful tributary to the Kern River in the Southern Sierras. This is a grrreat beginner creek run for competent class IV boaters. Low consequences, straight forward lines and sculpted granite make for a really great launching pad.

For the hardened creeker though, even a few laps on Brush Creek will only wet your appetite; never fear, the main course lies in wait only a few miles upstream: Upper Brush Creek.

Patrick Forster walkin' in

The upper stretch requires a short hike, partially along Cherry Hill Road and then followed by an easy downhill drag through burnt forest into the upper reaches of the drainage. Do not worry about staying high in the drainage. The further you hike downstream while dropping in the better. You won’t miss a thing. Once on the creek it begins by living up to its name. It is shallow, “brushy” and full of wood. Carry on, for your effort will not go unrewarded.

A short ways down (depending on how high you end up after your hike down to the river) you come to the beginning of the orange granite and to some small drops that will keep you entertained between the wood. Soon you reach some small slides and eventually a slide that ends in a cool ten footer. This is where things begin to pick up.

Evan at the first 10 footer - CALI-BUNGA!

There are numerous huge slides, mixed in with a few waterfalls and possible portages over the next two miles. There are too many drops to mention here and what fun would that be. Besides, I failed to get a picture of Patrick or myself on any one of the slides, so I will leave all but one as a surprise. Trust me though; there are MANY great and huge slides, which are what make this run worth doing.

There is only one “mandatory” rapid portage around a filthy looking crack in the granite bedrock that drops at least thirty feet into the unknown. It is near the end of the crux and it requires some easy rope work or dicey static climbing to portage on the right. After the portage you drop into the final section of the gorge with three great slides stacked on top of each other. The final slide is essentially mandatory and hard to scout. It banks around a sweeping left hand turn, at what feels like a hundred miles per hour, before dropping steeply into a tight sticky hole. Just go for it. It ends in big pool.

Last big slide

The final major drop comes just below the banking slide, is a fun fifteen footer and is run on the left. This drop is also mandatory. There is a tree blocking the entrance but you can seal slide around the tree near the lip. This is a fun and fitting end to the “good” stuff. Things get increasingly wood filled again from here on out and there are a few more small drops. I recommend taking out when you reach the campground about a half mile above the put-in for the lower stretch. The last mile above the lower stretch is extremely wood filled and is not fun.

Patrick probing the last 15 footer

It is tempting to try and combine the upper and lower runs and it can be done. However, you will have had your fill of action on the upper section and in my opinion it is not worth trudging through that god awful last mile just to get to the lower section. Run the lower section on it’s own with some friends who are new to creeking and watch their reaction. I guarantee you they will be instantly hooked.

Final notes: Everything on the run would appear to go with the exception of the crack… with that said; there is at least one pretty manky short cascade near the top, followed by many excellent slides. We walked the mank, as it is an easy portage, but I have seen video of it being run on the right. Near the end, after the big banking slide and final vertical falls, there is a long, manky, low angle slide. We portaged, but it can be run. It’s an easy walk and at least an elbow cruncher.

High portage and a big hairy pile of bear scat

There is also a beautiful waterfall, somewhere in the middle of the run, with a huge burnt tree blocking the entrance near the lip. We made the extremely unfortunate choice of portaging it on the right. It required roping the boats up two pitches of steep cliff and then lowering them on the other side of the drop. Not that the portage is easier on the left. In fact it’s probably not possible, but were we to have eddied on the left, I think we could have seal launched in and run the falls. This is my recommended route, although the falls did look to have a sticky hole with an ugly room on the left. It should be cleaned on the right.

With only two boaters it is sometimes hard to make the call. With the limited safety options that a team of two provides it is sometimes better to be on the safe side. This is not one of those times. I think the falls goes and in retrospect we should have run it. This is an amazing run and I would classify it as a must do if you are in the area

To check out a good video of this run courtesy of Cali Product CLICK HERE

Directions: Drive about 20 miles upriver (north) from Kernville on Hwy 155 to where Brush Creek crosses under the road. Take-out here or a few hundreds yards downstream at the confluence with the Kern for the lower. Drive on a “wee bit” and turn right on Sherman Pass Road. About 2 miles up there is a helipad on the right. To put-on for the lower, park and hike down a steep trail to the creek from the helipad. To get to the optimal take-out for the upper follow the 4x4 dirt road leading down from near the helipad to a campground near river level. Check the creek and mark your take-out before you leave your shuttle vehicle. This is the murkwood you will be paddling through at the end of the run. Drive back out to Sherman Pass Road and go upriver two or three more miles until you reach a likely locked gate at Cherry Hill Road on the right. If the gate is locked park on the left and start your hike. Follow the road until you pass a tributary with a cool but unrunnable waterfall above the road. Soon after, when you are sure that you are in the actual Brush Creek drainage, begin your descent to the creek.

Flow: Make sure that the Brush Creek Gauge (under Hwy 155) is at or above three feet for the upper. Four to Five feet is probably optimal (we did it at little over four).

More Lower Brush action